Wendell Carter Jr. had an interesting career in his one season at Duke. He was a highly touted high school prospect in the 2017 class. However, he wasn’t ever the go-to guy in his own frontcourt. Marvin Bagley III took most of the spotlight from him this year, but that did not stop Carter from still having a dominant season.
Carter is a 6’10” center with a 7’3” wingspan. He averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game shooting 56.1% from the field in his freshman campaign. He made the Second-Team All-ACC and made the ACC All-Freshman Team. At only 19-years-old, Carter has much room for growth and improvement in his game. It will be fascinating to see him develop on the biggest stage.
Looking at any of the draft boards or mock drafts, Carter’s stock has varied. He has many questions that come with his game. In college, he played the stereotypical center position which worked well in the Duke system paired next to Bagley. They primarily ran a zone for their defensive scheme, which will be the first test for Carter. How will he work in an NBA style defense along with guarding the tradition pick and roll?
Carter will transition well into the NBA. He already has the big body and rebounding IQ to put in good minutes for his rookie year. His defense and elite rim protecting were always on display. However, he is still young and that gets him into trouble often. Similar to the range of draft board opinions, the NBA comparisons are also across the board. The best one, and the one I could eventually see is the Al Horford comparison. Carter will not be a creator in the post like a Joel Embiid but can facilitate games well and do the intangibles the right way.
I believe Carter will need some time to hit his peak in the NBA. He can come in and grab the rebounds to contribute, but his offensive game will develop over time. He has a high ceiling with a higher floor than other big men in this draft, like a Mohamed Bamba. For him to ultimately succeed at his highest level, the team fit will be very important.
Let’s take a closer look at the center from Duke, Wendell Carter Jr.
Both of the strengths for Wendell Carter Jr. could fall into one bigger category: basketball IQ. This is the one aspect of his game that makes scouts excited for what is to come with him. Not all players possess the basketball knowledge that can pair perfectly with their game. Carter will have this throughout his career regardless of the direction it goes.
As for rebounding, he dominated the glass on both ends of the court. He averaged 2.9 offensive rebounds a game. That is all while being paired next to Bagley, who averaged 11.1 rebounds a night. Carter knew how to share the court with a showcase player which will be an important factor for teams to look at in the league. He had different moves to get into perfect position as seen in this video against North Carolina. Pairing Carter next to another stud down low will not hinder his ability to get rebounds and impact a game. This rebounding ability fits the perfect mold of today’s NBA big man.
Carter has a special gift around the rim, which worked nicely in the zone defense his freshman year. He averaged 2.1 blocks a game, and it did not even come with the ability to jump out of the gym. These blocks were collected by the smarts of positioning himself in the best possible spot to impact the shot about to go up.
Length and size are traits that translate to the NBA without needing any training or improvement. Carter has these two traits which help him on the defensive side of things around the rim. The IQ he possesses pairs well with this and was on display protecting the paint on his own if Bagley was not on the court. At the next level, he will have to continue to use this size in help defense or straight up against his own man.
Lack of Explosiveness
While having the rebounding sense to position himself for boards, Carter falls short when it comes to grading his athleticism above the rim. He will not be able to out-jump other big men for rebounds above the rim. It will be a major drawback in his game moving into a league that has players across the spectrum with incredible leaping ability.
This weakness also affects his scoring around the basket. His offense always felt as if it was held back due to his lack of finishing around the rim. This is not meant to describe his ability on a fast break or drives to the rim, but when he contends with other big men in the post fighting to put his shot up.
Defensively, this hurts him guarding more athletic players in the post. This lack of quickness was targeted when the zone broke down. Mismatches like this will rear their ugly head much more in a man-to-man system. His footwork and lateral quickness will need to improve to transition well to the league.
Biggest Question Mark
The reason Wendell Carter is constantly brought up as the draft’s biggest question mark is because of how his defense will translate at the NBA level. Scouts just do not know what type of on-ball defending we’ll see from him. As mentioned, the rim-protecting is there but does that only result from the zone schemes that Duke ran? He fit perfectly in this defense which was hard to score on for most of the season. He is going to prove that he can handle big men in the paint and, most importantly, prove that he can switch on to guards without being a huge liability. This will be the biggest thing to watch in Carter’s game moving forward in his career.
Fit With The Grizzlies
Carter would fit nicely with the Grizzlies. He could sit behind Marc Gasol learning from him as both players have a similar game. They could stick them next to each year playing big lineups or next to JaMychal Green in a more traditional lineup. He would be a perfect transition as Gasol is getting up there in age.
However, there is little to no chance the Grizzlies take him at the number four pick. It would be reaching too far in that range since he is not a top-5 talent. As I have said about Mikal Bridges and any other prospect lower down the rankings, if the Grizzlies have Carter high on their draft boards, they need to look and flip the #4 pick to fall back and take Carter plus gain another asset. Carter will probably go in the 6-10 range depending on how the draft unfolds.
Wendall Carter is for sure a question mark even having an NBA ready body at 19 years old. If he can get his all-around defense in order for the NBA, his basketball IQ and rebounding will carry the way for him to be an impactful big man in the league.